Hopes are high for the third installment of the canine side-kicked, gun-fu third person shooter franchise Dead to Rights – the first to grace a next-gen console. It was way back in 2002 where the original title hit the Xbox, Playstation 2 and later the PC to somewhat mixed reviews. It certainly looked a tad dated and for the average gamer who enjoyed the very similar Max Payne franchise Dead to Rights was deemed too difficult for many to patiently finish.
Three years later, again on the aforementioned platforms, the sequel (prequel) imaginatively titled Dead to Rights II was unleashed. If anything, the hype surrounding the 2005 release far exceeded the first game despite the hardly stratospheric sales or mixed bag of critical acclaim. I myself was seduced by said hype and rented a copy of the game to find it tired and clichéd – the 'Equilibrium' meets Max Payne and K9 theatrics doing little to disguise a game which was functional and lots of fun at times but not strictly worthy of a purchase.
Namco are again in charge of the latest in the series, and now equipped with the power of the PS3 and 360 there will of course be sufficient improvements in visuals and dynamics but the gameplay itself is where things needed to be vastly overhauled given the average expectations of todays gamer. It is perhaps a safe bet then to offer us a re-imagining of the first entry thus sticking pretty close to the first Dead to Rights' solid narrative – an idea employed so extensively and effectively by Capcom and the Resident Evil 'remakes'.
So once again it is the broken, unsettled and corruption riddled Grant City that hero Jack Slate finds himself in. Our favorite vice cop sets on a sole bid to wipe away the crime, greed and various factions and gangs that litter the metropolis. Betrayed and out for 'retribution' (see what they did there?) Slate gauges a personal war against everyone and anyone all with the help of loyal mutt Shadow. However, man and dog do not start off as one unit. You can play solo missions as the canine, a nice touch and one that looks to be sufficient in offering a different slant to the third person action staples of shoot, cover, punch, dive, roll etc. Instead you can drag enemies to the ground and suffocate them… nice.
There are other neat little touches that pepper the combat mechanics such as Shadow holding enemies in place for you to dispatch as Jack. And the fluid-as-ever transitions between close and ranged combat styles with both man and beast.
In fact, the combat elements really do look both slick and sick as the trademark gore gets notched up further. Blood splatters the screen when you take a hit and spills out of an enemy with wanton glee after every well placed shot or lunge at the throat. The cutting sound, polished special effects and subtle bullet time only add to the experience and overall atmosphere.
The visuals too, are mightily impressive. Of course most titles today can fall back on graphics when given the 360 or PS3 to play with, but 'Retribution' is more than eye candy – it is Grant City has a darker, grimier and downright doom-laden persona.
So far so very 'Gears Of War with a dog', as some have suggested, but this is unfair. The comparison with such titles is expected and justified, but there does seem to be enough here to allow Retribution to be counted as a standalone third-person shooter albeit a reworking of an earlier title.
Of course, there are still niggles which should be ironed out before the game's release even if it is brought forward from February next year. A hero and his many enemies being able to float around the terrain probably wasn't a feature intended for the finished product. However, there are perhaps more significant worries, the controls – if maintained – are needlessly difficult.
One button to command running, covering and leaping from said cover would certainly start to grate for most when first pacing through the game, but this is down to individual player rates of adaptation. Elsewhere, well as tight as the graphics engine is, some models do look clunky – including our four legged accomplice. Something I hope developer Volatile Games sharpens up before the end. It would be a shame for one of the game's strengths to be marred by aesthetics.
Dead to Rights: Retribution probably won't change anyone's lives nor redefine this long since overcrowded genre, but it isn't trying to do that. Namco and Volatile instead offer up a past title that was solid if not spectacular and have given it a very polished facelift. Add some effective features which although not groundbreaking are at the very least entertaining and this should be a worthy title.